Writing Tips for Non-Writers

I found a good post about writing through Wil Wheaton’s blog called Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don’t Want to Work at Writing by John Scalzi.

Scalzi presents a list of rules to follow to write better without exerting too much effort. I have tried to follow rule #7, “Try to write well every single time you write”, after getting introduced to Instant Messages and email years ago because I was afraid I would lose my ability to punctuate sentences correctly. Writing is about communicating, and it can be very frustrating to read terribly written IMs and forum posts.

In the comments there is some disagreement about the use of the word “alright” as opposed to “all right”. I have always used “alright” and never thought that it was the incorrect usage because I lost a spelling bee when I was in the 3rd grade due to that word. I spelled it “allright”. I was eliminated as soon as I got up there. I always remembered it. Now apparently the whole premise behind my loss was wrong. That spelling bee was a sham! At last, vindication!

Of course, language evolves. I think “alright” is a perfectly alright word to use (stupid spelling bee). I also wonder if ending sentences in a preposition will be accepted eventually. After all, the purpose of writing is to communicate. If you spend more time trying to be proper and by the book than is necessary to communicate to your audience, I think it has a tendency to be perceived as stuffy. of course I think that punctuation grammar and speeling is importent so it isnt like everything should be done away with

Please tell me you winced at that last “sentence”. B-)

I also found Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing through the 43 Folders site. On the idea that writing doesn’t have to be formal or proper:

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.

4 comments to Writing Tips for Non-Writers

  • This is goofy, my dad forwarded an email about something similar, and i’ll post the main content here — tell me if you can read this –
    “I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!
    if you can raed tihs psas it on!! ”

    Keith

  • That forward has made the rounds these past few years. It’s still really cool, though. It’s also amazing that speed reading through that paragraph is still possible. You would think that it would be easier to stumble over words.

  • Try it if it were all caps. Also note that each word is still very close to the correct version, and almost always begins with the correct first letter.

    A few other points from the resident pedant:

    - The “no ending a sentence with a preposition” rule is not a rule of English. It’s a rule of Latin. Around a century ago some pompous idiots at universities who decided English needed to be more like Latin (because Latin is of course the holy language) put together various extra new rules for English. They were picked up by other pompous idiots in high schools and elementary schools who taught English, and stuck. English grammar is, however, based more off of German than Latin, with a millennia or so to simmer.

    - Even at that, the problem with that rule is that, even if true, it forgets an important fact about modern English: compound verbs. Ending a sentence with a dangling preposition is bad grammar. E.g., “I went to the store with”. That just doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, to quote Winston Churchill on the subject, “this is the sort of idiocy up with which I will not put”. “To put up with” is itself a compound verb, and is a synonym for tolerate. So while “with” may otherwise be a preposition, it is not acting as one in that case.

    - Sentences like “Who did you go to the store with?” are, in my view, acceptable interrogative reversal.

    - I highly recommend the book “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” to anyone interested in the decline of the English language; it’s the book that taught me to use the semi-colon properly! ;-)

  • That book keeps showing up on this blog. B-)

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